Live reviews

Review: ICP Orchestra at the Vortex

ICP Orchestra at the Vortex Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved
ICP Orchestra at the Vortex – Evan Parker’s Might I Suggest Festival (Night 4 of 5 nights, Friday 1 February; review and drawings by Geoff Winston) Another wonderful ICP evening at the Vortex – the whole orchestra took over the room for two sets packed with a combination of musicianship and wit which joyfully stretched these supremely gifted performers to the max. Paying scant respect to musical territoriality, they lingered in the cabarets of the the Berlin of Kurt Weill with a louche gusto and toppled into improvised zones which drew on the orchestrations of Mingus and spine-chillingly summoned the brass section work of a live Ellington or Lunceford band. The flow of superb individual solos and section work was unstoppable – Michael Moore, Toby Delius and Ab Baars  formed a fluid and intuitive clique with Baars and Moore adopting the clarinet as well as their core saxes; behind them Wolter Wierbos and Thomas Heberer offered explosions of brass expression. Han Bennink whooped and whopped with alacrity and the measured acoustic refinement of Ernst Glerum’s bass underscored the near abandon of the frontline.
Misha Mengelberg and Mary Oliver at the Vortex Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2013. All Rights Reserved
But perhaps the most piquant aspect of the evening was the presence of Misha Mengelberg and the authority he brought he brought to the piano keyboard. Even the most tentative of his touches carried the combined weight of Monk’s commitment to the exclusion of the extraneous and Cage’s vision of the inclusive compass of musical possibility. Humour abounded in vocal and gestural exchanges with Tristan Honsiger (cello) which burgeoned with absurdist expression. A pop-eyed Honsinger memorably created the illusion of passing his cello bow through his neck to the delight of the crowd. There was also poignancy as Misha held the hand of a doting, beaming and ever-watchful violinist, Mary Oliver – one was reminded that he is not a well man. The Dutch Alzheimer’s Trust were filming all the concerts and his trip to London – perhaps they’ll be able to show how music unlocks the damaged mind – as Evan Parker, the curator of this extraordinary 5 day residency at the Vortex, has said, whenever he plays with Misha, there are no impediments to the musical engagement. An historic evening, without doubt, and one brimming with good humour, goodwill and enjoyment. Instant Composers Pool Orchestra: Misha Mengelberg (piano) Mary Oliver (violin) Tristan Honsinger (cello) Toby Delius (saxophone) Ernst Glerum (bass) Ab Baars (saxophone) Michael Moore (saxophone) Thomas Heberer (trumpet) Wolter Wierbos (trombone) Han Bennink (drums)

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  1. Thanks Geoff for a perceptive and beautifully-expressed review. Some fans may also be interested in the selections, which included:
    Alexander’s Marschbefehl (Misha Mengelberg)
    Kafel K-able (Misha Mengelberg)
    Spinning Song (Herbie Nichols)
    Rollo 3 (Misha Mengelberg)
    Zombie Zua (Misha Mengelberg)
    The piece on which Misha whistled along to the band playing a bluesy dirge was pretty special too!

  2. Many thanks for your kind comment – and very good to capture the set list. There wasn't really a place for it in my piece, although I'd noted most of them. I think there is a case for printing a set list as a footnote to some reviews (not all). This depends, of course, on being told what they are, or being able to identify the pieces – and on this evening Mary Oliver was the spokesperson in this respect.

    The ICP have a tradition of giving one member of the ensemble responsibility for selecting the sequence of pieces for the concert and letting the rest of the band know at the last minute – a serious test! I saw just before last night's concert (their final night) that Thomas Heberer was in the bar clutching photocopies of the list in Han Bennink's unmistakeable handwriting.

    I see the review format as a way of making a record of an event in certain cases, rather than a 'review', and this series of very special concerts by the ICP Orchestra at the Vortex falls in to this category – so the list complements a report on the spirit of the event, for which I, too, am most grateful.

  3. BBC Jazz on 3 recorded the final night (Saturday) – Evan was compere, and Misha played the first set, but not the second, and Steve Beresford joined them on piano for an encore of Ellington's 'The Mooche' and 'Caravan', segued almost Mingus 'Pre-Bird'-style! The final glorious night had a jazz dance band spin to it – rigorous, spiky, witty and bursting with energy and which you'll hear 'on April 1st', as it was suggested in true ICP style!

  4. Forgive me if this is going somewhat “off topic”, but many musicians have an infuriating habit of identifying the tunes that we all know, and not mentioning those that we probably don't, such as the “originals” and more obscure standards. I have spent many a long night trying to identify music that I have scribbled down on a scrap of paper or retained in my head. On Friday, Mary Oliver's announcements were not too clear (and some of the titles were in Dutch, which, despite my Belgian heritage, I do not generally understand) so a good deal of research was necessary! Had I known that a written set-list existed, I'd have taken the easier option! Anyway, I hope that the identity of tunes is of interest to some, and I hope that those who know me will continue to chuckle at my sad obsession.

  5. The whole week was very special for us. Thanks to all of the musicians, both British and Dutch, to Evan for pulling it all together. And of course all those who came.
    Before the event, nobody knew how much Misha would play, if at all. So the fact that we got 3 full sets from him was miraculous. And I think that the final set on Saturday reflected the joy, and relief, of the band that, despite his illness, his musical talent is still there.
    Thanks also to the Dutch Embassy for some money to help pay for accommodation, travel.
    I am still recovering myself, but with the Vortex, festivals are a blip in the programme! I think that you could even call the tail-end of this week a “piano festival”, should you feel so inclined. 3 generations involved: Alexander Hawkins with Harris Eisenstadt, Django Bates and then Stan Tracey.

  6. I had a lovely email from Susanna von Canon (the ICP's manager) confirming Saturday night's ICP Orchestra set list, as follows:

    “This is SATURDAY night …

    House Party Starting Herbie Nichols, arr. Misha Mengelberg
    Picnic Misha Mengelberg
    No Idea Misha Mengelberg
    Sendai Michael Moore

    2nd set *

    Barbaric Hoagy Carmichael, arr. Michael Moore
    Baltimore Oriole Hoagy Carmichael, arr. Michael Moore
    Jaloers, Ik ? Misha Mengelberg
    Ezels Ab Baars
    Criss Cross Thelonious Monk, arr. Misha Mengelberg
    Peer's Counting Song Misha Mengelberg

    * they had written down “Let's Call This” for the end of set 1 (Thelonious Monk, arr. Thomas Heberer) but I don't know whether they went on to do this in the 2nd set or not – I was taking Misha home and didn't get back until the end of the concert.”

    Many thanks to Susanna for this valuable information and for taking the trouble to track this down – I'm sure that the fans who packed the Vortex will appreciate this greatly.


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